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VOL 3. NO. 27 Monday, July 16 - Sunday, July 22, 2001
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Cassettes Tapes: The Hip Hop Generation's 8-Track

Last week in Confluence, I spoke about my "advanced" age, the "youth" movement in hip hop and how appearance in our culture means a bit too much. In the time, between that column and this one, I've been assaulted with another reminder that the hip hop cruise ship is passing me by. I think its fine time to ditch the swishies, lose the fisherman cap and toss all my dreams of a full-out 80s B-Boy resurgence out the window. But I will not toss the Walkman.

My latest reminder of how dusty I am all started with me buying a Walkman last week. But first, lets rap a taste about portable CD players.

I will never purchase a portable CD player. Never. To me, walking around with that baby UFO in your hands just looks silly. You ever witness a person trying to switch CDs on a crowded train? It requires the deft hands of a juggler to perform that vaudeville act. Most portable CD players are often too big to stuff in your coat pocket. You can't clip them on your hips (this isn't too cool to do with portable tape players either - but it's a great option). I haven't even discussed the matter of trying to cart more than 20 discs in those monolithic carrying cases. No sir, I'll take a pass with the whole CD deal.

I buy cassettes and I may be the last person in America that does so with pride. I grew up purchasing nothing but vinyl and tapes. In my entire life, I've only purchased two CDs and I recorded them immediately onto a cassette. I cannot let it go. I will not cave in to the CD craze. Give me cassette tapes or give me death in the form of repeated listens to Vanilla Ice in stereo.

I visited a large electronics and music chain store last week. I asked the boyish-faced clerk to direct me to his finest collection of Walkmans. He cheerfully pointed me into the direction of this gigantic wall of portable CD players. This wall wasn't simply huge, it was dwarfing. If the wall were any bigger, Stanley Kubrick could've used it for the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In disgust, I turned to the salesman (Man?) and asked him, politely, if he could show me to the OTHER Walkmans.

"OH! You mean tape players, dog? Man, folks still use those??"

He didn't say this quietly at all, He exclaimed it. So as I took the walk of shame to the cassette-playing Walkman side, I could feel his eyes burning the back of my neck. For the first time ever, I felt ashamed for being pro-tape. I nearly gave in to the pressure. I debated with my inner B-boy: "Should I or shouldn't I get one of those hand-held CD players?" I then took the debate up with my inner cheapskate. Frugality won yet again. The CD players were just a bit too steep at the time. After picking out a Walkman to my liking, I asked the clerk where I could find tapes for purchase. He said, with the straightest face I've ever witnessed, that the store discontinued the sale of tapes. They will sell nothing but CDs from this point on. I then saw this half-smirk/look of pity on the kid's face. I calmly left out without causing a scene and visited another store in hopes that I would find a tape to purchase. Again, I was foiled. The pimply-faced clerk was at least respectful in his rejection of my cassette request.

"Sir, we don't carry much of our hip hop and rap catalog on cassette any longer. Public demand is higher for CDs. Sorry."

This couldn't be happening to me. Did I just awaken from a slumber, only to find that all I knew and loved in hip hop became outdated? Hip hop doesn't belong on CDs, does it? Remember popping that tape into your Walkman and, if you were fly, clicked the reverse switch because you knew the song order on your tape? That's hip hop right there. Remember making mixtapes and recording songs in the order you wanted to hear them? That's hip hop. Walking around with that fat musical frisbee in your hands is not hip hop.

I finally found a tape after visiting three area stores. I paid $11.56 for The Liks latest release, X.O. Experience. Just last year, it used to be that new releases were $7.99 on cassette, $11.99 or so on CD. Has Napster and the MP3 rush forced record companies to raise the ante on the prices because sales are down? Are the retailers getting over on us? Are they forcing the public to accept CDs as the norm? What happened to choice and preference? I don't have a total hate for CDs. All my friends and siblings have them. In fact, much of my days are spent at my brother's studio taping the very things I won't buy - much of it being "aboveground" hip hop artists and the like. The sound quality is markedly better and the whole skip feature is convenient. It serves SOME purpose.

As I opened up my Walkman and place my plain looking tape inside of it, I laughed silently to myself as this young brother fumbled with his CD portable on the train. As he tried to retrieve a new CD from his monster of a carrying case, he dropped the CD player. He cursed violently and accidentally stepped on it as he tried to pick it up. Biting my lip to stave off maniacal laughter, I reached into my backpack and calmly grabbed a tape. I slipped it in, pressed play and I closed my eyes in pure bliss. I've never dropped a Walkman and that's a record I hope to maintain. The cassette may be hip hop's 8-track, but the size trade-off between that and those silly circles of music is no contest. Excuse me while I rewind my tape. It might take a while.

To comment on this or any article by D.L. Chandler email confluence@metroconnection.info.

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